Ham and Leek Tart

Ham and Leek Tart

One of my favourite things about cooking a large ham dinner is all of the leftovers. I think that I look forward to the leftover even more than the initial dinner and I always have fun trying new dishes using the ham. I recently came across the this recipe for a ham and leek tart on Picante Cooking and I immediately knew what I would be doing with some of the leftover ham in my freezer.

Mushroom Risotto

Mushroom Risotto
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One of the ideas that I was contemplating for my Valentines day meal was a mushroom risotto and although I did not go with it, it has been stuck in my mind and I just had to make it. Risotto is an Italian rice dish that is cooked with ingredients and technique designed to produce an extremely creamy bowl of down right comfort food. Although the technique is not difficult, it does require some time as you add the liquids half a cup by half a cup while stirring constantly. This means that you are going to be at the stove actively doing something for about a half an hour, but the final result is so worth it. The very fact that this dish takes some effort makes it perfect for special occasions where you want to show that you care.

Cajun Red Beans and Rice

Cajun Red Beans and Rice

Beans and rice is a classic combination with different versions showing up in various cuisines from around the world. One of my favourite versions at the moment is this Cajun style red beans and rice dish which is pure comfort food and it has been a perfect fit over the last few weeks with the continuing cold weather. Though you could easily keep this dish vegetarian, I could not resist adding some andouille sausage to make it even heartier and add some more flavour. Speaking of flavour, another great way to build some up is to add a ham hock to the pot while everything simmers. A ham hock is generally smoked and cured and it will add a ton of flavour to any dish that it is cooked in. The ham hock does contain meat and after all of the simmering is done you can pull it from the bone and add it to the dish that you cooked it in if you wish.

Fried Tuna Ball Po Boy

Fried Tuna Ball Po Boy

I have really been into the po'boy sandwich ever since I discovered them not too long ago. One of the things that I like about po'boy sandwich is that there are a lot of different ways of making them and my favourite up until now has been the spicy shrimp po'boy with remoulade sauce. I recently came across a new interpretation of the sandwich in the form of a fried tuna ball po'boy on Eatin' on the Cheap and I just had to try it! In essence this is just a simple tuna salad that is formed into a ball, fried until nice and golden brown and crispy and then thrown into a sandwich along with a tasty remoulade sauce. It is hard to go wrong with deep frying and these tuna balls are addictively good with their crispy outsides and their soft, warm and tasty insides. I finished the sandwiches off with some crisp and tangy homemade pickled green tomatoes . I now have a new favourite po'boy sandwich and I am already looking forward to making them again sometime soon!

English Muffins

English Muffins topped with Melted Butter and Marmalade

What better way to try out my new marmalade , than on some fresh homemade English muffins ? I had been wanting to try making my own English muffins for a while and now was the perfect time! After looking at a few recipes I ended up going with Alton Brown's recipe for English muffins which sounded pretty straight forward. What struck me the most about English muffin recipes is that despite the fact that they use yeast as the leavening agent, they are like a batter and not a dough, not unlike a pancake batter. To prevent the batter from spreading out all over the place metal rings are placed in the pan and the batter is poured into them so that when they expend, they expand upwards in the circular shape.

English muffins are pretty easy to make and the rewards are well worth the effort to make them yourself! They end up nice and golden brown on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside. When they are fresh from the pan and still warm it is really hard to resist cracking them open right away, topping them with butter and waiting for it to melt and get sucked into all of the nooks and crannies. Once the butter has melted, you add some marmalade and then its like having heaven for breakfast. When you first bite into it you get the slightly crisp outside along with the sweet and tart marmalade and then you hit the warm, soft and buttery inside which just dances in you mouth.

The English muffins will keep well in a sealed container for a few days. Although they are best just the way they are when they are first made, on the days following I like to toast the insides after slicing them open which adds a nice extra bit of crunch.

Marmalade

Marmalade

In amongst all of the oranges in the grocery store these days I noticed some new varieties that I had not come across before and I have been trying them out. One of the more interesting ones was the seville orange which was not what I was expecting when I cracked one open to eat along with breakfast; boy was it ever bitter! A quick search on the internet showed that the seville orange is indeed supposed to be bitter and that in fact it is prized for it and that bitterness makes it the perfect candidate for making marmalade. When I read that I knew what I would be doing with the rest of my bag of seville oranges; making marmalade.

Creamy Cabbage and Double Smoked Bacon Soup

Creamy Cabbage and Double Smoked Bacon Soup
With all of the freezing cold weather that we have been having over the last few weeks I have been in full on soup mode and I have been trying some new ones. By far my favourite so far is this soup from the description of one of the soups of the day at Porchetta & Co here in Toronto. The soup was described as containing cabbage, double smoked bacon, sausage and white beans and it was topped with a garnish of grainy mustard. I was immediately sold on the idea and I knew that I would have to try the soup! The only problem was that as a daily soup I could not count on it being there when I went so I decided to make it myself.

Candied Orange Peel

Candied Orange Peel

I garnished my orange chocolate mousse with candied orange peels and you know me, I could not resist making my own candied orange peels. As it turns out, candied orange peels are actually pretty easy to make. It is really just as simple as peeling some oranges, slicing the peels, simmering them in water and sugar until tender, tossing them in sugar and letting them dry. Before simmering the peels in the water and sugar you can boil them in water one or more times to help reduce the bitterness. The final step of drying the peels is going to take a day or two so you need to keep that in mind when making the candied orange peels.

Orange Chocolate Mousse

Orange Chocolate Mousse

With the main course of my Valentines meal decided it was time to move on to dessert and I could not help but think of chocolate. There are a lot of amazing chocolate desserts to choose from but I had one in mind already. Not too long ago I had the pleasure of attending a Bloggers Round Table put on by the Dairy Farmers of Canada where they treated us to, among other things, a chocolate mousse. This mousse was of course made with dairy products in the form of cream cheese and whipping cream. I had always been a bit leery about making mousse because most recipes call for raw eggs but this sounded like a perfect alternative.

With grocery stores having been flooded with oranges of all types these last few weeks I have been thinking about ways to use them and since oranges and chocolate are such great friends, it seemed only natural to make an orange chocolate mousse. I added the orange flavour through the use of some orange zest and a splash of orange liqueur. I finished off the orange trinity with a topping of candied orange peels.

If you are a fan of velvety smooth, creamy and decadent chocolate mousse but you are not too thrilled with working with raw eggs then this is the recipe for you! This mousse achieves that texture by combining cream cheese for creaminess with whipped cream for that light and fluffy airiness. Not only is this mousse addictively good but it is also really easy to make, though you do need some chilling time so keep that in mind. If you are planning a big Valentines day meal then this dessert is also good because you can make it the day before and lighten the load on the big day. Now please excuse me while I get back to my chocolate mousse.

Double Smoked Bacon Wrapped Filet Mignon with Caramelized Mushrooms

Double Smoked Bacon Wrapped Filet Mignon with Caramelized Mushrooms topped with Blue Cheese

With Valentines Day just around the corner it was time to start coming up with a meal plan and to test it out ahead of time. You can do pretty much anything that you want for a Valentines Day dinner and I like to try to make it a little bit special whether by indulging on quality ingredients or even just by making a meal that takes a bit of extra effort. For some reason, while I was contemplating the menu, I kept coming back to the idea of steak and if I am going to do steak for a Valentines day dinner then it is going to be a nice cut of steak like a filet mignon.

Spaghetti alla Bolognese

Spaghetti alla Bolognese

With all of the grey and dreary days that we have been having lately I have been craving some comfort food and top on the list is spaghetti alla bolognese otherwise known simply as spaghetti. Spaghetti has been one of my favorite foods since I was a kid and it was one of the first recipes that I learned how to make for myself. Despite the long list of ingredients, this recipe is actually really easy, requiring very little actual hands on time. I do a couple of things differently in this recipe starting with the vegetables which I pulse in the food processor. I want the flavours and aromas that the onions, celery, carrots and mushrooms provide but I like the meat sauce to be about the meat and pulsing them in the food processor allows me to have them without changing the texture of the sauce. Up next, I add some pancetta which is just packed with flavour followed by a glass of red wine.

Cilantro Lime Shrimp Nachos

Shrimp Nachos with Avocado Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

Shrimp has been on my mind a lot recently and I had to include them in my Super Bowl Sunday snack lineup in one form or another. After contemplating it for a while I decided to go with shrimp nachos. The basic idea behind nachos is to pile tortilla chips on a plate, top them with things like meat, salsa, jalapenos, olives and cheese and then bake them until the cheese melts. I wanted to use whole shrimp to maximize the experience of their juicy and succulent nature and I did not want to chop them up. I was thinking that the full shrimp would not be clinging to the nachos all that well when randomly sprinkled on so I decided to go for individual serving nachos with one shrimp per tortillas chip. I was seeing these shrimp nachos as green so I wanted a salsa verde and I also had to include some avocado so I took the opportunity to combine the two and I made some avocado and roasted tomatillo salsa . Next up was some cilantro lime shrimp which were sprinkled with green onions, melted cheese and cilantro. These shrimp nachos were amazingly tasty and did they ever disappear quickly! I served them with the remaining avocado and roasted tomatillo salsa for dipping.

Avocado and Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

Avocado and Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

I have been crazy for roasted tomatillo salsa or salsa verde ever since I discovered tomatillos. A while ago I heard about a new take on the salsa, an avocado and roasted tomatillos salsa which sounded good and I have just been itching to try it ever since. With the avocados in the salsa it kind of sounded like a cross between the salsa verde and guacamole which is another dip that I am completely into. This recipe is pretty much as simple as taking the recipe for the roasted tomatillo salsa and adding some mashed avocado. For my particular use however I also wanted to try to reduce the amount of moisture in the salsa so I threw it into a sauce pan and simmered it to reduce the liquid a bit before adding the avocado, lemon juice and cilantro. The avocado worked quite well in the salsa verde mellowing out the spicy heat of the jalapeno pepper all the while adding an amazing creamy texture. This salsa would go great with tortilla chips for dipping and tomorrow I will use it in another tasty snack for Sundays big game.

Tip: Tomatillos freeze well so freeze some in the summer when they are in season.

Greek 7 Layer Dip

Greek 7 Layer Dip

When I came across the idea of a Greek 7 layer dip on Our Best Bites recently, I knew that I would have to add it to my snacking mix for the big football game this year. I am a huge fan of both the classic Texmex 7 layer dip and of the Greek flavours going on in this dip. In fact this Greek version of the 7 layer dip reminded me of the Greek nachos that I make that are also a fusion of Greek and Texmex.

I started the dip out with the layer of freshly homemade hummus and then I went on to replace the cream cheese layer with a layer of tzatziki made with a thick and creamy 0%mf Greek yogurt. (I figured that I would be getting a lot of cream cheese in the other dips that I will be serving so I would keep this one nice and light and the tzatziki fits in with the Greek theme as well.) The next few layers are more of ingredients that are stacked on and they include some tomatoes, cucumber, red onions, kalamata olives, feta and a touch of mint as a garnish. I strongly associate oregano with Greek cuisine and I wanted to work some in so I mixed it into the tomato layer.

Although I was expecting this dip to be good with all of the great flavours in it, I was not expecting it to be as amazing as it was! I nearly devoured the entire batch in one sitting! The combination of the creamy hummus, the tart and garlicky tzatziki, the juicy tomatoes and crunch cucumbers, the salty olives and feta was simply fantastic! In addition to being one of the most addictive dips that I have had in a while, this dip is also pretty healthy, especially when served with toasted whole wheat pitas triangles for dipping. This dip is perfect for anyone looking for a healthier alternative for snacking at any party!

Jiaozi (Chinese Dumplings)

Jiaozi (Chinese Dumplings)
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With the Chinese new year in just a few days I thought that it was about time to practice my dumpling making skills. Jiaozi or Chinese dumplings, consist of a filling, generally a ground meat, that is wrapped in a thin wrapper and sealed by pressing the edges together or by crimping and they are commonly served with a dipping sauce. The dumplings can be cooked by frying them, steaming them or boiling them. Although steaming or boiling them is probably a little better for you, I prefer the fried version as the bottoms get nice and crispy and when they are fried they are often referred to as pot stickers. Dumplings are a popular New Years dish and since they are one of my favourite Chinese dishes it was the perfect excuse to make some at home.